Shameless spanker admits to the practice

Fifteen years ago, I wrote a column for the Abilene Reporter-News – a newspaper for which I still worked remotely as online content editor even though my family and I had moved from Abilene, TX to Little Rock, AR. (My blogging buddy Deana Nall used to write a wonderful, somewhat-similar column for her hometown newspaper, The Baytown Sun.) I thought I’d re-post a few of my entries, as she has occasionally done with some of hers. My column was called “Parenting on Purpose.” This was the third installment. It was not controversial.

(originally published August 30, 2002)

I spank my kids.

There. I admit it, you can hate me for it, and that’s fine. I’m convinced that my kids don’t, and that’s all that matters.

So I have to take issue with the detractors of spanking. That includes one former Reporter-News parenting columnist who recommended that when a child misbehaves to the point of driving you crazy, you should take a hot bath, light some candles, and play soft music.

While the child — in this case it was a two-year-old — parents himself … possibly by giving himself permission to tear the house apart or otherwise endanger himself.

To clear up any misconceptions, I don’t beat my children. I don’t abuse them. I spank their bottoms. I use my hand.

In my book, to hit anywhere else would be insulting, disrespectful, abusive. In my book, to hit with anything other than the hand would be the same, at least in this time and culture. My hand is a good gauge of how much pain I’m inflicting and gives me pretty good indication of when to quit.

And I think my hand should hurt when the punishment is applied, because my child’s failure to obey almost always means that I’ve failed — at least in part — to communicate to them that the punished behavior is unacceptable, and why.

I can still remember the last time my mother spanked her disobedient, only son — even though I’ve long since forgotten why. She turned me across her knee and administered the spanking with such frenzy that she hurt her hand badly, popping a small blood vessel.

I was too old to be physically hurt, but it broke my heart to see my mom crying because she was hurting so much. I remember promising her I would never make her want to punish me like that again. Then I hugged her and went to get her an ice pack.

I usually warn before I spank, unless the behavior is so heinous or so defiant that the shock of immediate punishment would make the warning less effective, rather than more. Two misbehaviors invariably warrant a spanking from me: Insolence, and hurting someone else. Hypocritical? I usually follow it with the explanation: “You seem to have forgotten that when you hit, it hurts the other person.”

I don’t have to spank often. Just often enough to convince my children that I will, in fact, do it when I’ve warned them.

One good swat will usually do the job. No use overdoing it. I’ve made my point.

Those of you who are rolling your eyes and trying to think of a way to file suit against me are probably thinking, “Now he’s probably going to say that his children respect him for it.”

Well, yeah. In part. I think the other part is far more important: that I let them know that I unquestionably, undeniably, unchangingly love them no matter how they behave.

I want my kids to fear me in the same way that I think the biblical writers enjoin their audience to fear a loving God. I want them to know right from wrong while they’re young.

Because if they misbehave when they’re older, law enforcement officials will not go sit in a bath surrounded by candles while listening to soft music.

Keith Brenton is the father of Matthew, 9, and Laura, 6. He and his wife, Angi, are adoptive parents. As content/media editor, he helps maintain Reporter-News Online and works at home. You can reach him by e-mail at [no longer active], but he admits he doesn’t have all the answers.


Parental pride takes form of a party

Fifteen years ago, I wrote a column for the Abilene Reporter-News – a newspaper for which I still worked remotely as online content editor even though my family and I had moved from Abilene, TX to Little Rock, AR. (My blogging buddy Deana Nall used to write a wonderful, somewhat-similar column for her hometown newspaper, The Baytown Sun.) I thought I’d re-post a few of my entries, as she has occasionally done with some of hers. My column was called “Parenting on Purpose.” This was the second installment.

(originally published August 16, 2002)

A couple of weeks ago, families in our small group at church gathered in our living room to have a “parental blessing.” We’d been studying Christian parenting every Wednesday evening since September of last year and had come to the conclusion what we didn’t tell our kids often enough just how much we’re proud of them and why.

So six pairs of parents told our 15 children — ages 2 through 9 — exactly that. Together we gobbled down a potluck dinner where every family had contributed ingredients to curry chicken. The kids played together for a while, as they always do. Then we collected everyone.

The dads read a short scripture that has special meaning for them when they’re interacting with their kids. Every reading was different, and each one gave a little more insight about that family. Since our two children are adopted, I read from Romans 8 and told them that not only is the whole creation on the edge of its seat waiting for God’s adoption, but that I’m sure He is, too — because I know how their mom and I felt, waiting for those who calls from our adoption agency.

Each parent, in turn, told each of their children one or two reasons why we are so proud of them, right there in front of their friends and family. And every kid beamed when hugged and kissed and given a simple white ribbon that said, “#1 Kid.”

The reasons were as varied as the kids’ natures and interests. It took a while … 45 minutes or more. There was a little squirming, but for the most part the children were riveted by the events. Parents expressed pride in athletic and academic achievement … in hobbies and interests … in sweet natures and curiosity and compassion. The very youngest one — a precious little blonde-curled toddler — gave her daddy extra pride “because she’s always singing happy little songs about Jesus.” When she heard that, she giggled and did a little dance of joy.

We briefly thanked God for them and prayed His blessing on them throughout their whole lives. Then we let them go play together again. (While romping, one 7-year-old girl fell on our sidewalk and knocked out two loose front teeth. We all scoured the walk for the missing teeth so that the Tooth Fairy wouldn’t pass her by.)

Nobody complained that it took too long. None of the kids asked how they could all be “#1 Kid.”

Maybe curry chicken isn’t your taste. Maybe you could do without the prayer and the scripture. Maybe six or seven families and 15 kids is too many for your house. But I can’t help but think that every family would feel as uplifted as we did, just by getting together with dear friends and having a little parental pride party for the kids.

Keith Brenton is the father of Matthew, 9, and Laura, 6. He and his wife, Angi, are adoptive parents. As content/media editor, he helps maintain Reporter-News Online and works at home. You can reach him by e-mail at [no longer active], but he admits he doesn’t have all the answers.

Despite flood, kid’s a happy camper

Fifteen years ago, I wrote a column for the Abilene Reporter-News – a newspaper for which I still worked remotely as online content editor even though my family and I had moved from Abilene, TX to Little Rock, AR. (My blogging buddy Deana Nall used to write a wonderful, somewhat-similar column for her hometown newspaper, The Baytown Sun.) I thought I’d re-post a few of my entries, as she has occasionally done with some of hers. My column was called “Parenting on Purpose.” This was the first installment.

(originally published August 16, 2002)

A few weeks back, nine-year-old Matthew went to camp. It was one of life’s milestones for him, and for us — his parents — too. For the first time ever, he was miles away from Mom and Dad and little sister for an entire week where phone calls to us are possible only in the gravest emergency; surrounded by a hundred or more diverse mentalities in a range of two years above and below him; supervised by other, slightly-older kids with whom I entrust my son but might not entrust my car.

We dropped him off Saturday afternoon. It was raining as we left. By Sunday morning, Mom was already fretting: “I hope he’s getting along okay.”

The weather forecast was for more rain in the camp’s area. She sent him a letter Monday morning.

By Wednesday afternoon, she was calling me from work. “Do you think we should go up to camp and go to church with him? I talked to some of the other parents and they said there are always a few who live there in town who drop in for assembly Wednesday night.”

Diplomatically, I said, “I’ll be glad to do whatever you decide. What I’m more concerned about is not that he’ll want to come home, but how you’ll react if the first thing he says is ‘Can I stay another week?’.”

We drove to the campground Wednesday night. It rained most of the trip, and when we got there the kids were gathered in the dining hall rather than outside. I dropped off Mom and little sister and parked. When I walked up, as far as I could tell, we were the only parents there.

Matthew was already telling Mom how he rode a horse that ran off with him and that his cabin had flooded and all his towels for the pool got soaked and the counselors found some more for him and how he and his cabin-mates were crowded into another cabin and could he show us now?

We asked his counselor if we could go see the new cabin, and he said sure. It felt funny, asking a high-schooler’s permission. We ducked between the raindrops. Matthew showed us the soaked, smelly old cabin and the clean, dry new cabin. He pointed and named each kid’s bunk. We took his soppy towels so they wouldn’t mildew.

It was time to go. The moment of truth had arrived. He opened his mouth, and I held my breath. “Goodbye, Mom. Goodbye, Dad. See you Saturday.”

The other shoe failed to drop. I can’t say the same for my jaw.

On the trip home, Mom turned to me. “The first thing he said was, ‘What are you doing here?’ The second thing he said was, ‘Can I stay another week?’.” I grinned.

She added, “I feel better now. You think I’m silly.”

“I don’t think it’s ever silly for you to be a Mom,” I said.

I should have told her that I felt better, too.

Keith Brenton is the father of Matthew, 9, and Laura, 6. He and his wife, Angi, are adoptive parents. As content/media editor, he helps maintain Reporter-News Online and works at home. You can reach him by e-mail at [no longer active], but he admits he doesn’t have all the answers.

Lean to the right

My views haven’t changed since yesterday.

I’m guessing that yours haven’t either; at least, not foundationally. But that’s okay. I didn’t write yesterday to change anyone’s views. Believe it or not.

Yes, I know this one only has 48 stars. Watch the Red Skelton video.I still hate what politics has become.

I still hate that the two-party system has morphed United States politics into oppositional extremism.

I still mourn the lack of ethic or consistent rules and familiarity with the Constitution (and I am no Constitutional authority; just a citizen. With a computer. And a will to go look things up to be sure, on reputable and dependable sites that make a sincere attempt at accuracy and objectivity.)

I still have no interest in playing the game when it’s rigged against all of us.

And I still will not wear a party label, even though I lean a bit to the left.

So now I will go ahead and lose more friends:

I also lean to the right.

I lean to the right, just a little, because I am an American. I find that the functional bedrock of the right is responsibility and loyalty and maintaining a national identity that is based on a common set of values expressed in the Constitution. When the right’s methodology errs, it usually errs on the side of caution. It is based on solidarity without uniformity.

I find that the functional modus operandi of the left is freewheeling freedom, uncautious optimism and a general tolerance for just about anything (even if it puts the stability of the economy, budget or other security at risk). It frequently operates with little self-discipline or introspection. It is based on diversity without commonality.

I know that this is not the way the left would describe itself in more lofty and admirable terms. But that is how the results come out when carried to extremes. And even today as opposed to yesterday, everything is always carried to extremes.

If we want to address problems like too much abortion being chosen, we need to take personal responsibility to get personally involved in the lives of people making that choice and offer alternatives, be willing to give, be willing to provide, be willing to just get involved. Be a foster parent. Adopt. Donate to and support adoption centers. Support businesses that care about employees. Don’t expect government to be responsible for taking the tax dollars from citizens who oppose abortions to fund abortions against their will and conscience.

Again, that’s the subject for another post or series of posts.

And I will be the first to admit that, even as an adoptive parent and supporter of an adoption agency, I have not done all that I could or should to assist hurting and helpless people as I should. I can do better. We all can do better.

So I lean to the left. A little. Because I am a follower of Christ, and called to compassion.

And I lean to the right. A bit. Because I am an American, and we are one nation that should have some common values to which we ascribe.

I think I always have been a little of both. I suspect I always will be.

And I would be willing to bet that many of you reading this are split within your individual selves on issues, way beyond abortion that I’ve used as an example. Some of you are also split within your families. And your churches. And your neighborhoods. And your places of employment, your cities and towns, your states.

At least some of you are conflicted, right now, reading this. –Even if you don’t agree with any of the perceptions or opinions I’ve expressed in this post or yesterday’s.

So let me ask: why are so many of us willing to sell out our souls to a party whose ideology and means of achieving it are not consistent with everything or even most of what we believe in; a political party that doesn’t consistently produce candidates of good character and repute and capability?

I know some of you will think, “But I do agree with everything my party does and stands for! The other party is evil and heinous and ought to be wiped out at the polls at every election!” That’s fine. You just go on deluding yourself and letting the rich folks who contribute heavily set all your Party policies for you so you don’t have to think or worry about it. I’m not talking to you.

I’m talking to the folks who are still reading (even if fuming) who are willing to think for themselves, be honest within themselves, and commit to something better. I’m talking to people who will drop the pretense and the party-first mentality and the divisiveness and the defensiveness and the anger and the judgment and all of the associated crap.

I’m talking to people who might be willing to talk, listen, ask questions, dialogue, sharpen each other, understand, be open, re-think, respect and insist on better than what we have now. I wish to heaven I knew what form that would take. Maybe it’s a third non-party of Moderates or Collaborators or unlabeled independents. Maybe it’s getting more actively involved in the process, pushing the parties to better or at least more tenable positions; even to the point of running for office. Maybe it’s nothing more than people willing to go against the two-party-headed Hydra and write or call or inspire others — all the while insisting on something more and better than whatever rich and influential people want us to vote for to make them richer and more influential. I don’t know what it is.

I just know that what we have ain’t working, because we ain’t working together … and that something’s gotta change — and SOON.

(Comments are also closed on this one. I’m not in this for the debate. I’m not here to start a party or attack or defend yours. I just want to stimulate some thought and a little bit of righteous indignation over the fact that we’ve all been played.)

Lean to the left

I hate politics.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I know I’ve said it for years, but it’s not quite on-the-mark.

Yes, I know this one only has 48 stars. Watch the Red Skelton video.Politics, simply defined, means:

  • activities that relate to influencing the actions and policies of a government or getting and keeping power in a government

  • the work or job of people (such as elected officials) who are part of a government

  • the opinions that someone has about what should be done by governments : a person’s political thoughts and opinions (Merriam-Webster)

Politics is just a necessary part of government, and especially self-government.

I hate what politics has become. I hate what a two-party system has morphed politics into in the United States: oppositional extremism, where the filthiest words in Washington are  “collaboration,” “cooperation,” “compromise,” “statesmanship” and “integrity.”

Politics has become gamesmanship rather than statesmanship. The only goal is for party ideology to win; not for the country to win or for the people to be best governed; just for one party to win over the other.

It’s as if the old junior high school cheer has become our new national anthem: “Lean to the left! Lean to the right! Stand up! Sit down! Fight-fight-fight!”

And there are no rules about the fight any longer. If rules become inconvenient, the majority side suspends or repeals them. There is no ethic to govern the behavior of candidates or elected officials or appointees. There isn’t even a basic familiarity with the Constitution and how government works in order to guide the process. No rules. Anything it takes … to win.

The result is:

  • If you don’t pick a side, you’re unpatriotic.
  • If you refuse to vote because the choices you’re offered are unacceptable, then everything unacceptable that happens afterward is your fault.
  • If you think for yourself, you are dangerous and untrustworthy.

Well, I refuse to play that damned game anymore.

In a game where rules are optional, nobody wins.

There are planks of platforms in both major parties and a couple of minor parties that I agree with and fully support.

But there is no one party that unfailingly and unflinchingly represents what is best for the people of the United States. Both are sold out to ideology. Both are sold out to special interests. Both have sold their souls for political contributions because the goal is winning.

So I’m not Republican or Democrat or Libertarian or Green or Socialist or any other convenient categorizing label.

I’m me.

Because “my party right or wrong” is just plain stupid. They’re both wrong about some things and they’re both right about some things and when they won’t cooperate on solutions to the nation’s problems, then everybody suffers.

And here’s the one where I’ll really lose friends:

I lean to the left.

I lean to the left, maybe ever so slightly, because I am a follower of Christ. I find that the underlying ideology of the left seeks the good of others and the entire nation over the good of self, and that is a value I believe to be Christ-like. The underlying ideology of the left is built on sharing and trusting and inclusiveness. It is based on love.

I find that the underlying ideology of the right seeks the good of self and only others who are like oneself or close to oneself. It seeks that benefit over the good of the entire nation and over the good of others, especially others not like oneself; others of different social stratum, or religious belief, or skin color, or income or political ideology. The underlying ideology of the right is built on accumulating and keeping and distrust and exclusiveness. It is based on fear.

That may not be the way that the right’s underlying ideology is expressed in noble terms of earning and self-determination and less government and more security and nationalism and capitalism, but that is how it plays out when carried to its extreme. And these days, everything is carried to its extreme.

Oh, but abortion! some might say; we care about the unborn babies! So do I. I don’t believe the vast majority people who lean to the left are dedicated to being pro-abortion or are “baby-killers.” But in all of the 40+ years since Roe v. Wade, I have yet to see the right or left establish landmark legislation that would genuinely encourage a reduction in the number of abortions; something that recognizes that women are going to be the ones making the choice – not legislators – and that there are a huge number of factors which affect that decision.

That’s the subject of another post entirely, or even a series of posts.

My point would be, if you are voting based on this single issue and ignoring the rest of the issues that surround life in the United States of America and how it is governed, then you are voting like the mythical ostrich … head in the sand.

Because the policies of the left, generally – the policies seeking the good of others above self – are the ones which have been and are likely to be more successful at reducing the number of abortions in our nation: a livable wage, maternity and paternity leave, affordable/accessible health care and child care, public education, hunger prevention, and so on.

Now I would be the first to advocate that most of these should be less the function of government and more the function of church and charity, but the fact is that church and charity aren’t getting it done, and when the call of Christ is for us to look after for each other, I don’t really believe He ever specified or gave a flying flapjack whether the help comes from individuals, from people working together as churches, charities or governments. Just as long as the poor and the disfranchised are included and shown tangible love; that’s all He specified.

So I lean to the left. A little. I think I always have. I suspect I always will.

But I know I will always maintain that the best course for the country will never be down a path of partyism, divisiveness and extremism. That’s what two-and-only-two major parties yields. You can line up all the political sociologists in the world and have them recite together for me, “But that is the natural result in a democratic republic” forever and ever, but what is natural will not make it right for the nation.

Agree or disagree; pile up your arguments and defend your extremist party if you want to.

It won’t change the facts:

  • Division leads to disaster.
  • Bias destroys truth.
  • Power corrupts.
  • We work best when we work together.

We deserve a better United States than our party loyalty yields, and so does the rest of the world.

(Comments are closed on this one. You can play political football somewhere else.)

It ain’t over

I’m not in denial about Christmas. It’s over. I thoroughly enjoyed it. And I don’t have the kind of let-down, blue feeling that I have had after the holiday in some years past.

You know that feeling, don’t you? All the pressure and shopping and wrapping and cooking and decorating and then … it’s all done. You get a consolation-prize holiday in a week — New Year’s (oh, boy; resolutions, losing weight, being a better person) — but the big glass ornament has really dropped at Christmas and you feel like you’ve gone down with it … Like you’ve had a software failure causing an emotional systems crash.

cosmic-christI really think that following the study of Advent has done its work on me this season: keeping up with the velcro Advent calendar in the kitchen, reading the Revised Common Lectionary readings, focusing on hymns and carols of anticipation as well as God’s delivery on His promise.

Somehow, I still feel that sense of anticipation even though the ghost of Christmas is now past.

Jesus is coming … again. He’s conquered sin and death, and there is no sting for those who follow Him. It won’t be in an humble manger or from a dusty tomb the next time, but all will see and hear His parousia … and the close of mankind’s history … and the full inbreaking of the Kingdom in the new heavens and earth. It’s enormous! It’s cosmic! It’s humanity and divinity; temporal-meets-eternal; imperfect-being-perfected stuff!

It’s really something spectacular to look forward to!

And although the season’s giving of gifts and the feasting on plenty (and the airing of grievances and the feats of strength, for some of you!) are over now, I’m in no rush to take down the decorations or stop listening to the music or cease lighting candles when I wish.

I guess the traditional time for that will be Epiphany, January 6, and that’s as wise as the Magi as far as I’m concerned … even though I’ve had decorations up since before Thanksgiving. (I had to get the cottage ready for my new hometown’s Tour of Homes on December 3.)

Now, having missed two Sundays in a row of worship with my church family here (one due to snow/ice; one from being at my old church home in Little Rock on Christmas), I’m having that sense of anticipation also that’s captured in the phrase we usually see and hear around Easter: Sunday’s coming.

Sunday IS coming. Good-Lord-willing-and-He-don’t-come-back, there will be 52 of them in the year to come … and that, too, is something to look forward to with joy!

But the bigger anticipation — He-DO-come-back! — has awakened within me and is starting to take over as the firmware on which the operating system software of my life is running. It’s basic and necessary and vital to everything else that I think, do or say. Life 2.0 — my OS since my baptism — is getting an upgrade to 2.1, I think.

And it ain’t over till it’s over.

The election is over

And I am dealing with its aftermath the same way I have tried to deal with the buildup to it and the day of it: through prayer.

Yes, I know this one only has 48 stars. Watch the Red Skelton video.I committed many months ago to praying for the two major party candidates — neither of which I could vote for, in good conscience (nor any of the other minor party candidates). Today I decided to renew my commitment.

One is in over his head.

The other must surely be down within her heart.

Both need prayers. Do I need to quote scripture for my fellow believers to explain why? All right, then, I will:

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior … — The apostle, Paul; 1 Timothy 2:1-3ff

Even if you consider them your political enemies.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. — Jesus of Nazareth; Matthew 5:43-45

The days ahead will be challenging for our nation and the world as we all adjust to a radically different political paradigm. This is not your usual party-to-party transition; this is from party-to-outsider-only-tenuously-connected-to-party. So pray for believers. Yes, believers. It is through believers that the world can come to know the Father, and they can come to know Him best by the gospel of His Son.

 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one — I in them and you in me — so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” — Jesus of Nazareth; John 17:20-25

I know it seems like we should just pray for our nation and the world and leave it up to God, but that’s the lazy way — and it’s not what God had in mind. That’s why Jesus prays for believers: because God believes in them and will empower them to do the work of making him known to the world.

Yeah; I don’t know why. I don’t know why God still believes in us — as messed up as we are, and as confident in ourselves anyway, and as convinced as ever that somehow our salvation is in a particular flag or border or army or leader or party. But He does. He expressed that faith in us through His Son and we need to pray to be strong and courageous in order to be part of the solutions to the problems this world has stupidly chosen and sinned its way into.

The day after the election, I took a little flack for posting my thoughts on Facebook:

We go forward from here.

We do better.

We commit to each other that we will participate more actively in the government of our own nation and of our own character.

We do not slough off all responsibility to elected officials.

We take it and run with it.

We bind up the wounds rather than salting or reopening them.

We respect each other.

We come together.

We fight together, not against each other, but against the divisiveness within and the antagonism from without that would gleefully destroy our Republic.

We live up to our pledge — not to a single person or party or even a flag of cloth — but to each other:

“ONE nation under God, INDIVISIBLE, with liberty and justice for ALL.”

No excuses.

But I make no apology for what I believe. Some of my friends whose candidate lost were hurting, and perhaps I should have given them a little more time and space to hurt. Others were plainly gloating, and deserved a little deflation to the party ego and the divisiveness they were displaying.

I am clearly no party animal, and it will require a willingness to unite and heal this nation if we want to be able to stand on the world stage and not appear weak, divided, partisan and yet still claiming somehow to be “Christian” with all of our bitter infighting.

And we will not be able to do this by ourselves. We need God’s help. We need humility. We need penitence. We need reliance on His power to show a Christlike nature to the world and to agree on what that means and to glorify His name above our platforms and parties and plans and presidents.

We need to pray it.

We need to live it.